ASCII Group Offers E-Newsletter, Social Marketing Service to Members

By Alison Diana

The ASCII Group has unveiled a complementary e-newsletter service designed to help solution providers market themselves to clients, prospects, and contacts with new content in a customizable format each month.

Available to channel organizations as part of their regular membership fee, the service was the result of ASCII Group research that found many IT providers still lack the marketing resources to easily and affordably get their brand and messaging out. In fact, approximately 72 percent of IT companies believed that the lack of marketing resources was an obstacle to their success in growing their business, a recent membership poll found.

"This industry is highly smart from a technology standpoint but sometimes providers lack the marketing skills or resources," said Jerry Koutavas, president of the ASCII Group, in an interview . "We started polling our members and found they need help in how they brand themselves online and how they market themselves. We saw a variety of other services out in the marketplace and found they were pretty costly."

That was the case for Slingshot Information Systems Inc., a Rockport, Mass.-based solution provider that joined the ASCII Group about three months ago after attending a meeting in nearby Boston. The small VAR, which serves clients with between two and 60 employees, had used other e-newsletter services from providers such as Constant Contact, President Stan Patey told Channel Insider. But they were expensive or time-consuming.

Slingshot, which tried out ASCII Group’s e-newsletter offering in December, liked the service’s ease-of-use and customizable template.

"If it’s easy as the first one was, and I can edit it up for myself in an hour or so, I can do it on a monthly basis or close to a monthly basis. If that’s too much, even quarterly would be great," Patey said. "I’m a small outfit."

The service allows solution providers, especially those without a dedicated marketing person or department, to regularly communicate with clients and prospects, agreed Brian Albright, owner of Albright Networks, in an interview. Albright, who had the creation of an e-newsletter on his to-do task list, was put-off by the time, content concerns, costs, and legalities of reusing publishers’ work, he said.

"What’s my content going to be? I’m not a copywriter … [and] I have to find five or six articles that I have to retweet. How legal really is that? Is our newsletter going to be some links? I don’t even know what’s really allowed. There’s half a day. Then there’s the time to format that, build that, and then Constant Contact or whatever gives you a template to dump your stuff in, but there’s a cost," said Albright. "The ASCII Group service is excellent value for me

Solution providers can easily customize the content they want to include, and can add their company’s logo, executives’ headshots, company contact information, personalized masthead, and other custom information, said Koutavas.

"We have a nice template already set up," noted Patey. "I can remove parts I don’t care for, and add things I like."

Early customer response has been positive, said Albright, whose Port Angeles, Wash.-based company sent its first e-newsletter in December.

"I really got a great response from clients. I get so much stuff in my inbox like that that I don’t read. I sent it to the owners of the companies I work with, and a lot of the people who are high up read it, enjoyed it, and told me so," he said. "Even though I’m in a small town I’ve got competition. It’s part of the sales funnel. If I’m getting information out to people, they might call about that. It might remind them to call about a new project that’s going on. I send it out to all the people that have ever touched me; they might become a client from it."

The ASCII Group will aggregate content of-interest to solution providers, clients, prospects, and markets, Koutavas said. The organization, now in its 29th year, already offered members a fee-based social media service, where it generates and manages posts for participating solution providers. As a result, the ASCII Group has built a wealth of intelligence and data about what customers want to hear and learn about from their trusted advisors, said Koutavas.

"On the social media service that we provide, we see the comments, the clicks and the links, and all the things that happen when we post comments, information, and links," he said. "I don’t think people really realize what they’re worth from a marketing standpoint. We see some great comments when we’re sharing things on their behalf. We’re really helping them build that brand expertise position on these social media sites—and with clients and prospects."

In fact, the social media service was one of two primary reasons (the other was vendor discounts) that Albright Networks joined the ASCII Group in November 2011, said Albright.

"They will do Facebook and LinkedIn updates for me," he said. "To have that presence that will build the clicks to have something always showing up there was something that really got me. That’s worth the price of admission right there.  In my case, what happens is, FB just doesn’t happen because I don’t have time to update it."

Although the e-newsletter service  only just became available, already about 70 of the more than 2,000 ASCII Group members have signed-on, said Koutavas. By March, the organization expects more than 300 solution providers to enroll, he said.


This article was originally published on 2012-01-04